Last week I finally saw the (excellent) film adaptation of Patrick White‘s The eye of the storm (which I may – or may not – separately blog about). I was intrigued to notice that the scriptwriter was one-time actor, Judy Morris, and this reminded me of the AWGIE awards.
The AWGIES are annual awards organised by the Australian Writers’ Guild. They recognise excellence in screen, television, stage and radio writing. I want to post about them because so often the scriptwriter is forgotten when films are spoken of – we talk most of the directors and the stars, and sometimes of the producers and cinematographers, but far less frequently of the scriptwriter. And yet filmmaking is truly a team activity and the script is a critical component. Scriptwriters are recognised, I know, in other awards – the Oscars, BAFTA, AFI etc – but the AWGIES are devoted to them.
The AWGIES have multiple categories, grouped under Film, Television, Stage, to name some – and they now have one for Interactive Media too. For Feature Film there are two main categories, though they aren’t always both awarded: Original and Adaptation. The awards have been going since 1967 – too long for me to list all the winners – so, yes, as usual, I will pick out some that particularly interest me!
In the 2011 awards, Currency Press won the Dorothy Crawford Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Profession. Established in 1971, Currency Press is a specialist performing arts publisher and, apparently, Australia’s oldest still active independent publisher. They are the first place you look (in Australia) if you want a published screenplay, but they also publish more widely in the performing arts arena. And they are, of course, a member of SPUNC, about which I wrote some months ago. Go small publishers!
Like many writers, Tsiolkas (of The slap fame) doesn’t only write novels, though they are his main claim to fame. He has, in fact, won two AWGIES. The first was in 1999, for being co-writer of a stage play, Who’s afraid of the middle class? His second was in 2009, again as a co-writer, for the multi-story feature film, Blessed. It’s not hard to see Tsiolkas’ hand in this film which confronts us with the challenges of mothering from multiple angles. It’s gritty, but sympathetic rather than judgemental.
Davies is another contemporary Australian novelist who tends to confront the seamier side of life. He’s also an award-winning poet and a screenwriter, and he won an AWGIE in 2006 for his feature film adaptation of his own (somewhat autobiographical) novel, Candy. Candy was one of Heath Ledger‘s last films and explores the world of a couple caught up in heroin addiction. I have seen the film, but have yet to read any of Davies’ work, something I must do.
It would be impossible to write about the AWGIEs without mentioning the prolific David Williamson. Primarily a playwright, he has also adapted many of his plays for film, and has won multiple AWGIEs for both his plays and his screen adaptations. His film AWGIEs include adaptations of his own plays, The removalists (1972), Travelling north (1988) and Emerald City (1989). He also won an AWGIE for an original screenplay, for the (now classic Australian) film Gallipoli (1981) on which he collaborated with the director Peter Weir. Williamson’s work tends to be satirical, and he has targeted most things that make up contemporary Australia, including football, party politics, the Melbourne-Sydney rivalry, university ethics and the police force.
And now, just because I can, I’m going to include Helen Garner, who not only writes novels, short stories, literary non-fiction, and essays/articles, but also screenplays. She hasn’t won an AWGIE but she’s sure to have been considered because the films based on her scripts have all been well-reviewed (and won or been nominated for other awards). She adapted her own novel, Monkey Grip, for film, and she has written two original screenplays, Two Friends and The Last Days of Chez Nous (for which she was nominated for an AFI award). Two Friends is particularly interesting. It’s a teleplay directed by Jane Campion, and was shown in the Un certain regard section at Cannes in 1986. I like its narrative structure, which starts in the present, when the two friends had drifted apart, and moves backwards to the beginning of their friendship. If you know Campion and Garner, you have an idea of what a perceptive little treasure this feature film is.
At the bottom (currently anyhow) of the Australian Writers’ Guild website is a quote from Tom Stoppard. I like it and think you might too:
Words are sacred… If you get the right ones in the right order you can nudge the world a little. (Tom Stoppard)
How often do you think of the scriptwriters of the movies you like – or don’t like?